Spain and the World Table

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DK Publishing

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Over 600 culinary industry leaders participated in the CIA's 2006 "Worlds of Flavor" International Conference and Festival. By transforming the Worlds of Flavor festival into a cookbook, the Culinary Institute of America-one of the best culinary schools in the world-brings the conference's superb culinary talent right into the home kitchen. Spain and the World Table culls recipes from 25 of Spain's and the US's leading chefs, from Manolo de la Osa (proud owner of a Michelin star restaurant in Spain) to Norman van Aken (owner of Norman's in Miami and L.A.). Award-winning cookbook author Martha Rose Schulman joins the CIA in presenting 125 accessible recipes, from Manchego Cheese and Potato Croquettes with Quince Sauce to Escabeche of Halibut with "Salsa" of Marcona of Almonds, Raisins, and Serrano Ham. Visiting chefs' cooking techniques and regional notes appear in features throughout the book. An enthusiastic foreword by Chef JosŽ AndrŽs, one of Spain's exports to America, and Greg Drescher, Director of CIA Greystone, and an introduction describing Spain's culinary history and its modern influence on world cooking round out this must-have book.


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Spain and the World Table

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Like the latest Hollywood sensation, Spanish cuisine has burst onto the world stage. Yet another "overnight" success. Only this one's been five centuries in the making. 

The fact is, Spain was in the forefront of adapting New World foodstuffs, making them part of its own cuisine, and funneling them into the rest of Europe. Gazpacho, Spain's iconic tomato soup, might still be a simple concoction of water, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and bread crumbs had history been a little different. 

Tomatoes, potatoes, chili peppers, corn, squashes, chocolate, common beans….the list is endless. The food exchange with the new world was so encompassing that many of Spain's best known specialties would not exist without them. 

 And yet, for most of the second half of the 20th century, Spain had no impact on the world culinary scene. Spanish food culture was an unknown quantity. And regional Spanish foods, for all intents and purposes, just didn't exist at all. 

It's only in the past 20 years or so that Spanish gastronomy has exploded on the world table with both the industrialized, space-age manipulations of chefs like Ferran Adria, and the more traditional regional cuisines impacting the global palette. 

Behind this sudden reemergence was the death of Franco. While all dictators are repressive, it was more than individual freedom that suffered under his rule. For nearly half a century all creativity was stifled in Spain. Even regional foodways were repressed, with the government going so far as to declare the making of artisanal cheese against the law.

The fact that the laws were quietly ignored is irrelevant. Spain basically disappeared from the world scene. And it was only with the restoration of democratic principles that its gastronomic arts were allowed to flower, and take their rightful place. 

In just two decades Spain has reversed half a century's silence, to the point where Spanish influences can be found in virtually every other cuisine. Check out, for instance, such revolutionary dishes as Japanese chef Kiyomi Mikuni's "sushi paella," in which he tops squares of saffron-infused, nori-wrapped sushi rice with the seafoods common to paella. 

Spain and the World Table: Regional Traditions, Invention, and Exchange  is a celebration of the Spanish culinary arts in a way that would have been impossible even 20 years ago. 

The book is an outgrowth of the CIA's World's of Flavor International Conference and Festival, which, in 2007, featured Spanish food, wines, and culinary traditions. More than 700 food professionals gathered for the festival. And if the event was half as good as the book, I'm sorry I missed it. 

But I have Spain and the World Table in its stead!

Although only slightly oversized, it could serve as a coffee-table tome based on its aesthetics. Certainly, Ben Fink's food porn photos, accompanying many of the recipes, are among the best of their type. With many of them you feel like eating the page, he makes the food look so good. But in addition to these illustrative pix there are the cultural ones interspersed through the book. You are there, in an Asturias cave, watching shelf after shelf of Cabrales cheeses develop their distinctive blue veins. You're ready to fill a shopping bag with the produce shown in a typical open-air market. And if you're not ready to book a flight after seeing the endless vista of Andalusian olive groves, I don't know what would move you. 

Books such as this require a lot of explanatory information. The cuisine, itself, has to be introduced, and its history presented. Along the way, specialty items have to be examined in depth----what's the story on Sherry and other Spanish wines? How do we keep up with the emerging artisanal cheeses? How can we look at Spanish food and not spend some time discussing saffron?

The danger lies in the very volume of data. It's too easy for the book to degrade into textbook mode. Rather than being interesting, it becomes a boring chore to read.

Not so with Spain and the World Table. Martha Rose Shulman's text is light and entertaining. An enjoyable read that leads us, almost without realization, into the recipes surrounding the text. 

Imagine the best of the old National Geographics, when the text elements were merely overblown captions that helped illustrate the point of the photos. So it is with Spain, with the text highlighting the foodstuffs and cultural influences that produce the dishes, both modern and traditional.

The essence of the book, as with the cuisine itself, are the recipes. With rare exception (those being CIA standards, such as the traditional Shrimp In Garlic), they are adaptations of the dishes prepared by chef's attending the festival. Given that, you'd expect the chefs to pull out all stops, and provide the best that they have to offer.

If those I've tried are any indication, you'd be right. Take Chef Jose Andres' tapa, Cold Mussel Escabeche with Vinegar and Pimenton, an assemblage that is garlicky and vinegary, but still light and refreshing. I made it once following his recipe. But, frankly, the quality of mussels available around here leaves much to be desired. So I made it a second time, using blanched squid instead. If anything it was better. And I would guess that shrimp would work just as well. 

Chef Pedro Moran's Crispy Cabrales And Phylo Sandwiches are an interesting take on tapas, using the emergent artisanal cheeses as a filling for toasted phylo triangles. Not as radical as the weird-science cooks, to be sure. But not something you'd likely have found in a tapas bar 40 years ago. 

Of the half-dozen or so recipes I've prepared so far, however, my knock-down favorite is Chef Robert Del Grande's Grilled Lamb Chops with Salsa De Pasitas Rojas and Fennel Salad. Yeah, that's a mouthful. But so are the chops, with their Catalonian-inspired highlights. 

It's more than a tasty meal, though. It demonstrates the basic premise of the book. Chef Del Grande doesn't work in Spain. Instead, he works his culinary magic in Houston, where he is executive chef and owner of Café Annie, and partner in the Schiller-Del Grande Restaurant Group. 

Such is the recent, widespread influence of Spanish cuisine that a chef known for his southwestern creations, doesn't think twice about playing culinary tones whose origins are from Catalonia rather than Chihuahua.        

Recipe From The Book: Grilled Lamb Chops with Salsa De Pasitas Rojas and Fennel Salad


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